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Turkey Targets Press Freedom

Written by Subject: Free Speech
Turkey Targets Press Freedom

by Stephen Lendman

No country imprisons more journalists than Turkey. Ragip Zarakolu understands well. He's a prominent human rights activist/publisher. He's a former Nobel Peace Prize nominee. He's been maliciously targeted for years.

In 1998, he won the International Publishers Association (IPA) International Freedom to Publish Award. He couldn't attend the Frankfurt ceremony. Authorities confiscated his passport.

In 2003, he received the NOVIB/PEN Free Expression Award. In 2008, IPA gave him a second Freedom to Publish Award.

In March 2012, he was imprisoned. He was targeted after receiving the Assyrian Culture Centre's Assyrian Cultural Award. It honored his human and minority rights advocacy.

He's been wrongly charged with state crimes more than 70 times. He faces 15 years in prison if convicted of current terrorist-related ones. His trial begins in April.

He's one of thousands of journalists, lawyers, activists, and others accused of belonging to or aiding and abetting the Kurdistan-based Union of Communities. Turkey conflates it with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Zarakolu calls charges against him "state terrorism." Turkey is part totalitarian, he says. Authorities target journalists and intellectuals urging "Kurdish question" solutions.

An atmosphere of fear prevails. Widespread arrests follow. No one's safe.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) calls itself "an independent nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide."

It reported on "Turkey's Press Freedom Crisis: The Dark Days of Jailing Journalists and Criminalizing Dissent."

"(A)uthorities are waging one of the world's biggest anti-press campaigns in recent history," it said.

"Dozens of writers and editors are in prison, nearly all on terrorism or other anti-state charges. The evidence against them? Their journalism."

Turkey's press freedom "reached a crisis point." Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan imprisons journalists "on a mass scale."

He denigrates free expression. As of August 1, 2012, CPJ identified 76 Turkish journalists imprisoned. They're held for what they write and say.

Charges are entirely spurious. They include "committing a crime on behalf of a prohibited organization, aiding and abetting (it) knowingly and willingly, making propaganda for (it), and (supporting) its objectives."

Other penal code provisions prohibit journalists from "breaching the confidentiality of an investigation (or) influencing a fair trial."

They criminalize independent, in-depth coverage of police and court-related activities. They impose censorship. They're used with "disturbing frequency."

At yearend 2011, up to 5,000 criminal cases against journalists were pending.

Pro-Kurdish news is called terrorism. About 70% of jailed August 2012 victims were Kurdish journalists. They're charged with aiding and abetted the PKK.

About 30% of them were charged with participating in anti-government plots or belonging to outlawed political groups.

Several were linked to an alleged Ergenekon conspiracy. Authorities call it a military coup plot to overthrow Turkey's government.

Officials say news coverage creates societal chaos. Doing so is conducive to coup plotters, they claim. They say whatever they want to say to bring charges. Spurious ones follow.

Two prominent journalists were targeted - Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener. They were imprisoned for over a year. They were released pending completion of their trials.

At issue was Sik's new book. It's a work in progress. Authorities alleged it aided and abetted Ergenekon coup plotters.

Sener said he was targeted for his own book. It discusses government's failure to solve editor Hrant Dink's 2007 murder.

Authorities conflate favorable PKK coverage with terrorism. News-gathering activities and reporting risk imprisonment. Doing so violates Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

"Everyone has the right to freedom of expression," it states.

"This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers."

This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises."

In suppressing press freedom, authorities banned words they don't want used. Calling PKK members "guerrillas" is prohibited. Saying so "legitimize(s) terrorists and terrorism," they claim.

Turkey is more police state than democracy. All countries have national security concerns. Suppressing press freedom is no way to confront them.

Equating dissent with terrorism is tyrannical. Incremental reforms change nothing. Turkey's penal code is repressive. Dissenting on Kurdish policy is called "terrorist propaganda."

Journalists have trouble reporting on court cases. Article 288 compromises them. It lets authorities charge them with "attempting to influence a fair trial."

Article 285 invites charges of violating confidentiality. Article 301 criminalizes "insulting Turkishness." Applying repressive provisions is entirely subjective.

Supportive media propaganda gives authorities a big edge. Turkey blurs the line between inciting violence and freely expressing ideas and opinions.

Ergodan and his government "must exert the political will to abandon the systemic suppression of critical views and dismantle the country's vast system of media repression," said CPJ.

On February 5, the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute Silk Road Studies Program headlined "A House Divided Against Itself: The Deteriorating State of Media Freedom in Turkey."

More "pernicious" and "corrosive" than imprisoning journalists, it said, is "widespread self-censorship and the climate of fear." It extends across Turkish society.

Its press never was free. Censorship varied over time. Authorities never lacked complicit journalists. They willingly support official policy.

They report "untruths." They operate like Western media. They regurgitate officials lies. They support powerful interests. Television is worst of all. Viewers expect news and information. What's broadcast falls woefully short.

Turkish newspapers have more columnists than reporters. With few exceptions, journalistic standards are low. "Little attempt is made to substantiate news reports."

Managed news misinformation substitutes for truth and full disclosure. More "sound than sense" follows. Thoughtful reasoning is sorely lacking.

What passes for investigative journalism "consist(s) of a compendium of reports and rumors selected to support the author's preconceptions."

Corroboration is lacking. Journalists rarely defend press freedom. A well-known saying goes: "The Turkish translation of freedom of speech (says) the less you talk the longer you'll be out of prison."

Methods used to suppress dissent are similar to ones used earlier. After Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) took power, he usurped media control.

Authorities seized the Sabah-ATV group. At the time, it was Turkey's second largest media organization. It was sold to Calik Holding. It's owned by a close Erdogan associate.

Calik had trouble financing the deal. Two state-owned banks provided funds to do so.

In September 2008, Dogan Holding (DH) was Turkey's largest media organization. It reported embezzlement details. Doing so implicated Erdogan associates. They worked for the Deniz Feneri Islamic charity.

DH paid dearly. It was fined over $2.5 billion. It was levied for alleged tax evasion. It responded by toning down AKP criticism. It fired outspoken journalists. Its tax fine slipped quietly under the radar. It effectively disappeared.

AKP authorities relentlessly pressure owners. Go along or lose operating licenses and business permits. Corporations are urged to advertise with government-friendly media.

These type issues aren't new. Previous governments bought favorable media coverage. Print and broadcast sources got lucrative state contracts and/or "soft" loans from state-owned banks.

What's different today is AKP's power. It's unprecedented. It takes full advantage. It applies enormous political and economic pressure. It exceeds what previous governments could do.

Turkey's repressive climate is unequaled. It's most striking on television and pro-AKP broadsheets. They suppress opposing views.

They collude with security forces and police. They're the main force driving government-sponsored smear campaigns. They intimidate. They silence dissent.

They compromise rule of law principles and due process. They support wrong over right.

They call fabricated evidence real. They facilitate arrests and prosecutions. They let Erdogan govern like a tinpot despot.

Had they stood tall together and defended press freedom, he never would have been able to do it.

On February 6, Harvard University's Harvardgazette headlined "In Turkey, problems for press," saying:

In July 2011, Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News foreign news editor/columnist Ferai Tinc quit. She did so saying "Reporting is not happening now. Everybody's afraid. There are only official statements, only" state-friendly journalists.

Press freedom in Turkey is Soviet-era "Pravda-like." Dozens of journalists are imprisoned for saying what authorities want suppressed.

Since Erdogan's AKP took power, Turkey's media landscape consolidated to a half-dozen pro-government conglomerates. Others face pressure and censorship to be supportive.

Ankara's Anti-Terrorist Act targets investigative journalists. It implicates them in alleged anti-government coup plots. None exist so Erdogan invents them.

It's common practice to suppress dissent and enlist public support. Press freedom is democracy's "pillar," said Tinc. Problems can't be solved without it. Justice is sorely lacking. Fabricated lies substitute for hard truths.

Academics and artists are targeted. Some quit and leave. Others voluntarily self-censor. Otherwise they risk imprisonment. Police states operate that way. Erdogan mandates it in Turkey. He shames himself in the process.

Conflating critics with terrorists doesn't wash. Erdogen's in denial. The European Court of Human Rights says so. Guilty again, it said, for suspending the publication and distribution of newspapers critical of government policies.

In its 2013 World Report, Human Rights Watch highlighted serious Turkish human rights abuses. They include compromising press freedom, assembly, association, violence against women, and excessive security services force.

Anti-terror laws overstep. They violate basic freedoms. HRW's senior Turkey researcher, Emma Sinclair, says:

"If the government is serious about its latest moves to address the Kurdish issue in Turkey, freeing the thousands of detained peaceful Kurdish political activists, journalists, human rights defenders, trade unionists, and students would be a good first step….Turkey needs to make human rights a priority in its approach to all of its citizens."

It falls woefully and abusively short. Dark forces target state enemies. Erdogan's more despot than democrat.

He's averse to governing responsibly. He prioritizes unchallenged power. Opposition isn't tolerated. Imprisonment is a hair's breath away. Nothing in sight suggests change.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at

His new book is titled "Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity."

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